The anatomy of a viral Facebook post

If Facebook is part of your marketing strategy, you probably fantasise about the day one of your posts goes viral, bringing your business to the attention of the world. This week, the dream came true for my friends at Flying Solo, with more than 12.7 million people (and growing) seeing one of their posts. Here’s what happened, and what we can all learn from it, not only for our social media, but for all the marketing content we create and publish.

First, the back story

Flying Solo is an online small business community dedicated to providing Australia’s enormous groundswell of small and micro businesses with the information they need to help them prosper, and the support and camaraderie that helps them thrive. (If you’re operating a small business and you’re not already a member, do yourself a favour and sign up today – it’s free and it’s awesome).

I’ve worked with Flying Solo for more than six years, and while I’m not involved in their social media activity, I do have a ringside seat, so I’ve been watching this week’s developments with huge interest.

The Facebook post that went viral

Here’s how it’s all unfolded so far. At 8 o’clock on Monday night, their editor Kelly posted this on Flying Solo’s Facebook page:


Almost immediately, the post went off like a firecracker, skyrocketing Flying Solo’s already very respectable reach (the number of people seeing something from the brand on Facebook) from an average of around 80,000 people a day to just under 5.5 million within 24 hours.

As of this morning (Wednesday), an additional 7 million Facebook members have seen the post, with more than 75,000 clicking the ‘Like’ button, and nearly than 55,000 sharing it with their friends.

There’s also been a huge upswing in their number of new Facebook likers, demonstrating that hundreds of people have chosen to have an ongoing relationship with Flying Solo in response to this post having crossed their paths.

The fluke that’s not really a fluke

Kelly and the team at Flying Solo are understandably delighted, and more than a little surprised that such a simple post has touched such a nerve with their community.

But the truth is, this only happened because the strategy behind their Facebook presence is extremely well conceived, and because this particular post ticks all the boxes with regards to how people behave on the social web.

It’s not my place to share the details of their social media strategy with you (and as they’re my only client outside the natural health space, it probably wouldn’t be relevant to most of you reading this article anyway), but with the huge benefit of 20/20 hindsight, here’s my analysis of why this particular post has been so very successful for this particular business.

It fits their strategy

Suffice to say, the team at Flying Solo is very clear about the benefits to their business and their brand of having a strong Facebook presence, and the type of content they want to share with their audience there.

They’re on a mission to support their community members with content that talks about both the practicalities and the emotional realities of running a small business.

With that in mind, they’ve put considerable thought into striking a balance between posting content that’s educational, content that’s inspiring, and content that drives readers through to their website, where they’ll hopefully become more engaged with the community at large.

That means that in amongst their daily Facebook posts relating to money, marketing, motivation and social media, there’s room for a regular smattering of light-hearted banter like the tea post above, because even on a normal (non-viral) day, those kind of posts keep people engaged and get them talking.

Ask yourself: Is there a business benefit to my brand being on Facebook, and if so, what do I want to be known for there?

It’s the result of planning and investing

In order to keep a consistent balance between promotion, education and community-building right, many of Flying Solo’s posts are planned in advance.

Furthermore, Kelly invests a significant proportion of her time in creating content and liaising with the Facebook community.

Contrast that to the impromptu, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach that many small businesses take when it comes to social media marketing, often aiming to get in there, find something someone else has posted to share, and get out again as quickly as possible.

Ask yourself: Am I investing the time I spend on Facebook wisely and using it to pro-actively drive my business agenda? (Or am I just bumbling about, and perhaps promoting other people’s content and businesses ahead of my own?)

It shows they understand what’s important to their audience

Kelly may not have planned on this particular post going viral, but she has spent a lot of time thinking about what’s important to the people in her audience: what inspires them, what annoys them, what frustrates them and how their days take shape.

Even though she’s not fanatical about her tea (something I find completely incomprehensible myself), she knows that when you’re running your own business and working alone, stopping work for a cuppa is a little ritual that takes on paramount importance.

Ask yourself: How can I demonstrate to my community that I understand and empathise with what’s important to them?

It creates an emotional response

In a country that’s obsessed with coffee, us tea aficionados are the silent majority.

We grumble to ourselves about the impossibility of getting a decent cup of the stuff in a café (side note to baristas: the water in your espresso machine is NOT hot enough to make tea with), we take our own teabags on holiday with us because we doubt they’ll have decent options where we’re going, and we begrudgingly accept that 99.9% of the people in the world will never know how to make a brew that meets our own personal specifications.

As far as I’m concerned, these issues should be a matter of national importance. It’s always puzzled me enormously that they’re not discussed widely, and that while the vast majority of café and restaurant owners take great pains to choose and prepare their coffee, they don’t appear to give two hoots that they’re consistently disappointing their customers with the dishwater they try to pass off as tea.

So this particular Facebook post had me laughing aloud and nodding my head, and saying to myself: “Finally, someone understands what I’m going through!”

My own fixation with the nectar of the gods aside, the takeout lesson here is that if you want your marketing content to connect with your audience, it has to touch them in an emotional way.

Ask yourself: What is my community passionate about?

It hits the Share-ability sweet spot

On social media, a Share is the holy grail of engagement, boosting your brand visibility far more than a simple Like or a brief comment.

However, research* shows that we tend to be extremely particular about what we’re prepared to share, and that our primary motivations for doing so are to entertain others and to be a good friend.

As a result, when we’re on social media, we tend to share content that’s entertaining and/or that relates to our shared experiences with others.

On the other hand, we’re also very aware that what we share on social media says something about who we are. As a result, most of us do share stuff that reinforces our sense of identity, but don’t share anything that’s overly personal or that we think will make others form a negative opinion of us. (In fact, more than 70% of us change our minds in the critical microseconds just before hitting the share button*, presumably due to last minute second thoughts about what other people will think).

In this case, the tea drinkers of Australia have united behind Flying Solo’s post, which laughingly taps into both our sense of identity and our shared pain over the sorry state of affairs we face when unsympathetic people attempt to make us tea.

We’ve also grasped the opportunity to be a good friend with both hands: in addition to having been shared nearly 55,000 times, this post has received nearly 28,000 comments, the overwhelming majority of which involve a reader singling out somebody else by name that they think will appreciate it.

Ask yourself: What are the shared experiences my community can relate to? How can I talk about them in an entertaining way, and without making people feel in danger of being judged if they share my content with others?

Applying these lessons to your business

What all of this means is that if you want the content you’re creating and publishing on social media or your blog to be shared by others, you stand the best chance of that happening when you have a solid strategy behind you.

Take the time to determine what your business objective is, who you’re creating your content for (and what’s important to them), and how to frame and produce it in a way that helps build trust and confidence in you and your brand.

If none of this is your strength, educate yourself by observing what’s working for others and what’s not, and consider engaging a marketing coach or content strategist to help you work out an approach that suits you and your business.

I’m off to put the kettle on, but if you’ve got any questions or comments, please feel free to drop me a line here or over on Facebook.

* Reference: Fractl. The link between content sharing and identity, 2014.